As a specialized dietitian, a sports nutritionist works directly with athletes to expose them to a more nutrition-conscious lifestyle. This could mean being part of a professional sports team, working in a college or university athletic department or even helping young athletes get off to a healthy start by partnering with youth sports organizations or K-12 educational institutions. You may also go into private practice to support clients in all of these areas.
As noted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a solid career in sports nutrition is in part thanks to fundamentals in clinical nutrition, exercise science and counseling, alongside an entrepreneurial mindset and practical experience. Developing this array of skills requires both the right educational background and job experience.
“Nutrition is a very versatile profession,” says Clinical Associate Professor Sandra Mayol-Kreiser. Teaching mostly medical nutrition courses as well as serving as an advisor for the Human Nutritional Science Dietetics Program at Arizona State University, Mayol-Kreiser believes the Master of Science in Nutritional Science (Dietetics) degree at ASU is an appealing program because it’s online and flexible. She also notes that obtaining a master’s degree gives registered dietitians a competitive edge, since by 2024 anyone wishing to sit for the RD exam will need to have their master’s.
The MS in Nutritional Science (Dietetics) at ASU is a non-thesis program available to registered dietitians who have a minimum of one year of professional experience. This program, according to Mayol-Kreiser, teaches students how to use evidence-based practices, which can improve professional performance not only as an RD, but wherever your career takes you. Designed with working professionals and students’ learning preferences in mind, this online degree program covers topics aimed at advancing students’ skills as practitioners.
A typical day in the life of a sports nutritionist
A typical day for a sports nutritionist involves working with athletes. From setting up meal plans that provide the greatest possible performance benefits to establishing personalized dietary regimens, it’s important you review all the factors which contribute to each athlete’s nutritional health. These factors include age, gender, conditioning, workout schedule, what sport they play and any past or current injuries. The goal is to devise the best possible diet for each athlete for optimal performance and health.
You may also spend time in a typical day:
- Reviewing the latest scientific evidence and translating it into practical recommendations
- Tracking and documenting patient outcomes
- Providing sports nutrition education
- Screening and assessing patients’ nutritional needs, diet restrictions and current health plans
- Consulting with physicians and other health care staff
It’s also important to remember that while one thinks of athletes as the primary client for a sports nutritionist, within this role you can also support coaches, trainers and community groups.
A closer look at the professional landscape for a sports nutritionist
According to Payscale, the average pay for a sports nutritionist is $23 an hour with salaries getting as high as $74,000. Primarily, employers are looking for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a career-related major such as nutrition or exercise science, but those with graduate degrees like the Master of Science in Nutritional Science (Dietetics) from ASU can potentially attract a greater volume of employers or clients. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests those interested in this career path can pursue a master’s degree in nutrition or exercise science to qualify for high-level positions. Having an advanced degree provides additional options in education, research and administration.
Becoming a sports nutritionist
In addition to obtaining the proper education to be considered for open sports nutritionist positions, it’s important to review credential opportunities and requirements. Having your registered dietitian credential is a great place to start since it establishes your qualifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, as sports dietetics becomes more specialized, exploring further credentials can set you apart from other applicants and provide you with an additional asset when marketing yourself and your services. You can earn your board certification in sports dietetics through the Commission on Dietetic Registration if you are a current RD, have maintained your RD status for a minimum of two years and have the appropriate documented hours of specialty practice experience.
Equally important to the educational background and the credentials are general skills one should have to aid in being a successful sports nutritionist. “I tell my students all the time, you can be the best dietitian in the world, but if your patients are not understanding what you are saying and they’re not doing it [following their nutrition plan] at home, it’s futile,” states Mayol-Kreiser. Communication is key when it comes to working directly with clients, tying in to how you explain a nutrition plan and how you educate and counsel clients to establish the right dietary habits. Other important skills to have include:
- Paying close attention to detail, especially when measuring vital information from your clients
- Self-motivation to work independently whether you’re self-employed or work for a larger organization
- Managing time well to build nutritional plans for your whole sports team or client roster
- Strong organizational and analytical skills to assist with keeping track of client information which you must assess to provide an accurate analysis of each person’s nutritional needs
Learn more about your potential career as a sports nutritionist
Mayol-Kreiser believes in the future, “a master’s is going to be the norm,” when it comes to health science professions. She knows that having the right educational background can help individuals be more marketable as they make career moves. The online MS of Nutritional Science (Dietetics) reinforces essential skills such as project management, interpretation of research literature, critical inquiry and problem-solving to help prepare RDs to take the next step in their nutrition career. Based on the scientific foundations of nutrition, this online degree program is committed to a rigorous and high-caliber education.